Greece: Police clash with striking doctors

Police clashed with protesting doctors in Greece and civil servants staged a 24-hour strike in Portugal on Friday to protest government cutbacks enacted in response to Europe's financial crisis.

Riot police used pepper spray to disperse protesters outside the Health Ministry in central Athens during the brief clashes as doctors, ambulance drivers, and staff at public hospitals in greater Athens held a three-hour work stoppage.

Greece's largest unions are planning a general strike on May 11. The government announced a new round of cuts last month, that include a euro15 billion ($22.22 billion) privatization program.

The country is battling to avoid restructuring its massive debt and to meet demands for faster cost-cutting reforms by the European Union and International Monetary Fund, the providers of its euro110 billion rescue loan package.

Prime Minister George Papandreou insisted Greece had no other option than too seek the bailout loans in 2010 and impose more painful reforms in the years ahead.

"Bankruptcy was on our doorstep," he told parliament. "I would like to know what other way salaries and pensions could be paid. How else the country would avoid crumbling from one day to the next, if the state stopped functioning and the banks closed?"

Papandreou said the government would see through plans to sell another stake in the Public Power Corporation — and reduce its holding from 51 to 34 percent. But he insisted it "will not relinquish control" over PPC and was not urgently seeking a strategic investor, given that the company's share value has been hit by the recession.

In Portugal, a strike by civil servants against austerity measures Friday had little impact on public services, though unions reported disruption to trash collection and hospital staffing levels.

Portugal's National Federation of Civil Service Unions, which called the 24-hour strike, said around 60 percent of Lisbon trash collection staff stayed away from work and most emergency staff at main hospitals walked off the job. Minimum hospital staffing levels, which are required by law, were provided.

Some schools canceled classes and several hospitals postponed scheduled operations, but court hearings and national school exams largely went ahead as scheduled and most public offices were open, according to media reports from around the country.

The unions, which represent around 250,000 workers, are fighting austerity measures that are part of the country's euro78 billion ($115 billion) bailout designed to avert national bankruptcy.

Portugal is freezing public sector pay through 2013, hiking taxes and cutting welfare benefits in return for the financial rescue package from other European countries and the International Monetary Fund which was agreed Thursday.

Austerity policies have also triggered strikes in Greece and Ireland, two other ailing eurozone countries which took bailouts last year.